Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I have preferences toward the type of gems I like. I am partial to the deep purple of amethyst, the fire filled red ruby, dark blood of the garnet, brilliance of blue topaz, and glowing rich green of emerald. I also like obsidian depths of Onyx. I am not a real fan of bright white of Diamonds-too cold for my taste. I also have preferences toward the type of stories I like. I like dark, fantastical stories that have real stakes to them--people get hurt and pushed to the edge.
So how does one refine the rough gem of a story? There are many ways to approach it, you don't want just wildly hack at it -- that would destroy it. I am careful, I write a scene. I send it to a few people and I talk my idea over with them. I have to be careful, because sometimes my hand slips or I share the idea with the wrong person.
This week I had a rough idea of a Y. A. that was dark and dealing with violent issues. I told a few friends who gave me some positive feed back, then I shared it with a friend who had a intensely negative reaction. She hated the idea, saying vehemently, "I'd never read that." and "You can't write that!" She didn't want to hear that the point was working through the issues and rising above it. Her reaction made my hand slip and almost shatter the rough jewel of the story.
I questioned my idea and what I was doing with it. Why should I write this story? Is it too dark? Maybe I should just discard it. It shook me up. This is when a good and trusted CP (Critique partner) helps you. I turned to one who set me straight.
She told me, "Tell the story as it should be told."
I needed to hear that. When you present your ideas out there, there are many "jewelers" that have preferences. You have to find the ones that understand how you approach and write a story (gem). Its easy to tell someone that its a bad idea..because you can't handle the idea or its not something you would write or read. There is even the temptation to add to the cut of the story--sometimes its an excellent thing, other times it can shatter the idea. My idea almost shattered under the extreme reaction.
Then I realized, that perhaps there was something to the idea. If there was such a polar opposite reaction than I may have something.
I'm taking my jewel of a story and I am going to write it. Not sure when, but I am not throwing it away.
Has anyone else tried to shatter the jewel of your story idea? How did you overcome it?
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
I must say though, it's been a nice break and my beagle recognizes me once again, so that's a good thing. Still, I'm seriously missing some romantic fiction in my life. Soooo, I did a search today and found this montage. Holy moly, it's more of those BIG-MOVIE-KISS scenes! And this time it's to one of my favorite songs.
I'll post all the movies shown after the meeting Saturday. Meanwhile, can you list them all? I'll be honest, I couldn't. But oh so much fun to watch.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Criticism is hard to take, but most of us are too close to our own work to recognize the flaws in our writing. That’s why being in a writer's group or having critique partners can be beneficial, even crucial to a writer. With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on what it takes to be a good crit partner, whether in a one-on-one relationship or in a group setting.
FOR THE GIVER:
1. Critiquing, when done right, should be a give and take situation. So be reliable. You know how anxious you are when you let someone else see your baby. So put the poor person on the receiving end out of her misery and complete your crit within the agreed upon time. For example, my writer’s group meets once a month and we expect everybody to have taken the time to read and critique everyone’s work by the next meeting. If you have a crit partner, the time limit will be much shorter than that, especially if someone is under the gun on a deadline of some kind.
2. Before you set out to critique another writer’s work, be sure you know what they want. Do they need/want structural help or plot suggestions? Do they have an area of weakness they need help with, say, for example, dialogue tags or commas, conflict or formatting? Are they ready for an honest-to-goodness real critique or are they at the beginning of the learning curve and need some gentle suggestions to improve their writing?
3. Be constructive and positive. If you find a problem, offer a suggestion on how to fix it. Be respectful of the other person. You don’t want to shut them down.
4. Know that it’s okay if they don’t take your advice. It’s not your story. Writing is subjective and everyone has to find their own voice. Your job is to help make the work better, not make it your own. (Something I need to work on, as I tend to get carried away and do too much of a rewrite. Soooo much easier and FUN to edit someone else’s work than to actually write something of my own!)
5. Try and find something positive to say about the other person’s work. We all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. A few flowers on the page never hurt anybody and might be what someone needs to persevere in the craft. Mary Kay Ash says, “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.” And remember Mary Poppins’ sage advice: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
FOR THE RECEIVER:
1. Don’t be a taker who never gives back. It should be a reciprocal relationship.
2. Don’t overload the person giving the critique. In other words, don’t expect them to critique your whole book in one sitting, unless they’ve agreed to be your Beta reader. No more than 20-25 pages at one time, especially if you belong to a group where there will be multiple submissions.
3. Don’t take the criticism personally. Remember, it’s subjective. Opinions are like behinds, everyone has one. Find me a writer everyone loves and agrees upon. Go on. I dare you.
4. With that in mind, don’t take it out on your crit partner or writer’s group if you get your feelings hurt by an honest, constructive critique. In other words, don’t use the fact that your work needs tweaking as an excuse to eviscerate someone else’s work. I know people this has happened to. Ugly.
5. Finally, give careful consideration to advice given, but remember it’s YOUR story. It’s up to you to decide whether to accept your crit partner’s suggestions or reject them.
Monday, August 23, 2010
For more about what I write, please go to my website: http://www.mvfreeman.com/.
Favorite quote: “Never, never, never give up.” By Winston Churchill
Saturday, August 21, 2010
I was so confident in my plan, I focused on everything in the world but my blog post. Then the wheels came off. No free internet at the hotel. My displeasure is difficult to articulate. Not only did it derail my blogging plan, but also the lack of free access to my not-so-secret addiction, the internet, kept me from getting work for my day job done. It hit me square in the face. I should have planned better and worked on my time management before leaving for the conference so I would have been better prepared. Lesson learned (I say after a few hours sleep sitting at the free computer in the business center).
Finding the time to do this post reminded me that I really needed to work on my time management. I always find a way to get done what needs to get done by the time it should be, but it is usually at the cost of sleep, fun, and peace of mind (notice I didn't say meals - those babies are carved in stone). I've tried scheduling my day. That was a waste of paper. I've tried dividing my day (morning for work/evening for writing), but I couldn't keep the divisions separate. I'm looking for new tools. I'm such a wimp. How everyone on this blog balances work, writing, kids and a productive life is beyond me. I have yet to manage juggling the two balls I'm supposed to control.
I would love to hear time management suggestions from everyone so I can keep one of the balls in the air from bouncing off my head!
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Once I stepped into 30 (sometime back), this became my mantra. Every birthday, I choose to reflect on the past year and make a resolution for the next. Generally, this is a private exercise, however since I’m scheduled to blog and it’s my birthday tomorrow…well, why not bring my thoughts into the public sphere. Give an account, make a commitment.
Last year’s resolution was to simmer myself in the writing craft. Seek out teachers I admire and spend time learning, honing, experimenting. I’ve been to conferences with wonderful panels, where I, along with throng of others, have rushed from one session to the next. The learning was fast and furious. I enjoyed and benefitted from these sessions.
But I wanted something more. So, this past year, I looked up favorite authors, admired publishing professionals and checked out their schedule and venues. In the end, I treated myself to two:
1. A week in New Orleans at the Pen to Press Retreat where I attended a master class with author CJ Lyons.
2. A weekend in Dallas with the wonderful Donald Maass at a Fire in Fiction workshop.
Both cost money and time, meant work while others played, but the best part was connecting with other creative souls, the sharing of ideas and methods, and getting re-energized. I brought back tons of notes, flip chart pages, books. Most importantly, I have brought back the experience and knowledge of two people who know and love the business, the craft and the joy of writing.
Of course, not all the advice given applies to my writing, but some of it resonates. And as I write, if I hit a stumbling block, I stop and consider my options. I find myself wondering what would CJ do or Donald Maass say. I work my way through.
Thanks to them, and to wonderful readers/CPs, I’m taking my WIP to the next level. I don’t want it to be good enough, but the best I can make it. Both the story and I have changed over the last year.
So another birthday, another resolution. This year I’m turning 38, just two years from 40. This year I resolve to dare. I’m going to start a new book. I will not worry about trends and markets. Instead, I will dare to write the story I want. I will not worry about making my main character likeable or flawed. Instead I will dare to let her be who she will be…a woman on her own terms. When opportunity knocks, I will not wonder if I’m ready or good enough. I will throw the door open and smile.
If it slams shut in my face, I will journey until I find another.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I would also ask my mother questions about when she was a kid and she would claim she didn’t remember anything except having to pick cotton. Well, I didn’t believe either of them. How could they forget something so important?
I figured my mom told me that because she had a horrible childhood (she did pick cotton) and just didn't want to talk about it. I understood picking cotton wasn’t a walk in the park. For those who never lived in the country and had grandparents who didn’t, you have to work around the bristles of the plant to “pick” the soft white fibers inside the dry bolls. If you don’t have thick gloves and long sleeves, you can get cut up pretty bad.
As I get older I understand why they had a memory problem. There are parts of my childhood I’ve forgotten and it makes me so sad. I do remember that until I turned eleven, my childhood was wonderful. Long summer days and nights at the lake. Riding my bike up and down my street (though I was too scared to ride it off Horseshoe Hill). Catching lightning bugs. But every day I can feel some of it slipping away, though occasionally something pops into my mind and surprises me. Of course, I worry that it’s my imagination and not really a memory.
Oh, I would like to mention that my dad can remember so much more of his childhood than I could ever dream of. He remembers things from when he was three. Considering the man is 79, that’s darn good.
Of course, you’re wondering, why in the world am I talking about picking cotton and my family’s childhoods?
Well, it has all to do with memory. Remembering things. Funny thing, I can remember odds facts and figures about movies, TV shows, work, etc. (Will Ferrell and I share a birthday except for a nine year difference), but to remember what color of eyes my hero has in the book I’m writing, especially when I on page 234, forget it. I can’t tell you how often I’ll be editing my manuscript and get to a plot point I had set up and realize I had totally forgotten about it. Geez!
So I keep a separate file that I call MANUSCRIPT NAME HISTORY and all the details and quirks about the characters, plot points, urls that I used to look up information, reminders to add or delete info, short and long pitches, breakdown of the chapter and numerous other items to help me organize my thoughts/manuscript.
At times, if I have an idea of what I want to write in the next scene, I’ll go ahead and jot it down at the end of the manuscript with stars before and after the sentence so it’ll stand out.
How often on the ride to work and back you think of an idea? I own a small tape recorder and tried using it. But I found I hated to hear myself voice suggestions and details of scenes. It was kinda embarrassing in fact, especially when I played it back with my husband in the room and it sounded like, “Go back and lengthen the time the hero and the heroine make love. Make it hotter.” My husband is bit of prude. So you can imagine how well this went over.
How do you keep up with your details?
Speaking of my hubby and time flying, wish us happy anniversary. Today is our 36th. Yes. I was five when we married.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I find it helpful to think of your story as a filing cabinet, with seven folders containing the basic structural elements of a story.
Folder #1: CHANGE
This is your beginning. Every story should start with change, something that happens to knock the protagonist off his current path. A death in the family, a new job, a new boss, a murder, a kidnapping, an illness, meeting an exciting but unattainable girl or guy—anything that changes the protagonist's future and forces him to adjust his life to meet its challenges. The ideas that fit in this folder are some of the most basic—who is the protagonist? What does he/she want from life? What motivates his/her behavior now? What will motivate it when something changes? What's going to be standing in the way? This section of your mental filing cabinet is all about the who, the what, the why and the why not of the story.
Folder #2: CHOICE
With change comes choice. The choice is your second folder. This is the part of the story where the protagonist has to decide how to cope with the change thrust upon him. He may choose to try to delay doing anything. He may jump right in and make a mistake. Or he may do what would seem to be the right thing to solve the problem, only to discover that his choice leads to new problems. But he has to choose to do something, even if it's to do nothing. And no matter what he does, there will be consequences. Consequences challenge the hero to make more choices, which lead to more consequences.
Folder #3: COMPLICATIONS
Consequences lead to complications. The deeper the character goes, the more complications arise from his choices and the choices of others in conflict with him. Here is the place in the book where you start adding twists. A villain shows an unexpected side. A red herring emerges to send the hero off into a new direction. Something happens to give the hero unexpected information that changes what he believed in the beginning and sends him moving in a new direction.
Folder #4: COMMITMENT
Now that the hero is moving forward at an increasing speed, getting more and more entangled in the consequences and complications of his choice, he has to commit himself fully to seeing the problem through to the end. He's in it until it's solved or he's dead, whichever comes first. In this part of the book, you examine why he's willing to throw himself so completely into the struggle. What are the stakes? Why can't he let go? This is a great place for character revelations and examination of the internal conflict. And sometimes, it's a way to show that what he's committed to is going to kill him unless he finds a new, better goal.
Folder #5: CATASTROPHE
Or, as I like to call it, the "Oh, crap" moment. This is the moment when everything goes wrong. When your hero meets an obstacle he can't find a way around. When he reaches the edge of the cliff and there's nowhere to go but straight down. If you've ever seen the movie Lethal Weapon, it's the moment in the desert when Murtaugh and his daughter have been captured, and Riggs is trying to figure out how to save them—and he hears that gun cocking behind him, looks up and sees the Big Bad Guy. "Oh, crap." There's a reason this is called the Black Moment. It's got to be significant. It has to seem insurmountable.
Folder #6: CLIMAX
This is my favorite part of the book. It's the time when your characters get to show what they're made of. They face the obstacle with their chins held high, ready to fight to the death (figurative or literal) to reach their goals. Everything they've learned over the course of the book—about trust, about courage, about love, about strength—come into play in this moment. They can face this moment now because they've changed and grown over the course of the story. If this moment had happened at the beginning of the book, there's no way they could have beaten the opponent.
Folder #7: CONCLUSION
This is your wrap up. By the time you reach this point, your characters will tell you exactly what they want to happen. They'll have earned their rewards--or their punishments, in the case of the bad guys--and you'll know how to give them what they deserve.
So the next time you're bombarded with a bunch of ideas about your story—but can't quite figure out how to pull all the threads together into a narrative—try fitting your ideas into one of the 7 C's. It just might help you organize your thoughts into an honest-to-goodness story.
Do you have a favorite way to get started when it comes to telling a story? Tell us your tricks!
By the way, I've got brand new books out this month and next from Harlequin Intrigue. August's book, One Tough Marine, is book 3 of the Cooper Justice series, featuring the prodigal Cooper son and the woman he loves but knows he can never have. The September book, Cooper Justice book 4, is Bachelor Sheriff, about the youngest Cooper son Aaron, a deputy sheriff whose arson investigation heats up when he finds the victim—and maybe the suspect?—is the plain Jane braniac he ignored in high school—but can't get out of his head now.
I had a great time writing both of these books, so if you read them, I'd love to hear what you think!
Friday, August 13, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
This has been an interesting week for me personally and professionally. On the personal front I have back to school shopping, back to school calendars to incorporate into my life, a weird widow wrecking havoc in Texas, a new car to get tags downtown and floors to clean.
Confession: the whole house needs a good do over, but if I do the floors, the house "looks" clean. It's like a mirage...
On the professional front I have a new online workshop to coordinate, which includes Yahoo meltdowns and new class members to welcome to the class as well as financial reckonings. I have two partials to prep for the requests I received at Nationals, which means redoing the synopsis and writing yet another query letter, meetings to attend and contests to process and prep for as well.
Confession: I'm a decent synopsis writer, but the query takes a committee to whip into shape. If I had known about the synopsis and query requirements BEFORE I started writing, I might not have started.
Now in addition to all the "stuff" I have to deal with personally and professionally, I've been processing the Dorchester news, feeling icky about my own uncertain future in this business, reading articles about e-publishing and wondering how it all will play out. It's hard to focus. Very hard. How do I get BICHOK with all these distractions?
First of all, I remember what Nora Roberts said during her Keynote address to the Romance Writers of America at the National Conference: in a nutshell--"don't whine, just write." Is it any harder to get published today amidst all the turmoil? Nora has an answer: "carbon paper." Okay, what does that mean? It means writing hasn't changed other than to become easier for us with the advent of computers, laptops and cool writing programs. Publishing wasn't easy for her 30 years ago. She got rejected, too. Then an opportunity opened up and voila, we have 30 years of books written and published by Nora Roberts and her alter pseudonym, J.D. Robb.
She is ONE of many writers who fought to make our genre the powerhouse that it has become today. And yes, e and digital publishing have changed the face of the writing world, but in order to survive and win we have to remember one thing: "don't whine, just write." Get into the "swimming pool" and be ready for your opportunity to arrive. Then grab hold and hang on tight cause the work's only going to grow exponentially. Ask any writer who just got the call this year. Ask about the workload and the deadlines and the expectations.
So that's my first rule: look for inspiration, write it down, post it somewhere and then write.
Do you have to write every day? Some people do and some take breaks. I tend to dabble a bit every day, but my focus changes. I also give myself permission to take "breaks" from my manuscripts. I like to let them percolate before I hit the revisions and edits. I use the break time to work on my contest entries, learn about my craft, read good books, bone up about the business of writing and publishing, send off queries, and submit.
So here's my second rule: find your own process and your own rhythm for writing. If you aren't published, really work hard to hone this process so when you get the call, you'll know what you have to do to get the JOB DONE.
This brings me to the third rule: treat your writing like a profession and you will be treated like a professional.
How to be a professional? Make a commitment to go to the "office" and write on a regular schedule. Life bopping you over the head? Give yourself a break. Need a sick day? Take it. Need a Vacation? Take one. But know when you're going back to work. Schedule it if you have to do it.
Okay, so that brings me to a sidebar: sometimes you have to chunk the schedule and roll with the punches. Yup. Like today. Today I had big plans--I was going to make it my errand/clean house day/run to the courthouse to get tags day. Instead I got a humungous hive on my lip while I started writing this blog and, given my allergy history I got pretty gosh darned freaked, so I popped two Benadryl and called my darling husband downstairs to watch over me.
Nothing else happened except I finished this blog under the influence of Benadryl. So I'm giving myself permission to take a break from work cause I need a wake up call. And that's a wrap for me. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I get back in the chair and become BICHOK all over again.
Monday, August 09, 2010
Saturday, August 07, 2010
1. Everyone Does It Differently.
2. Ignorance Is Not Bliss.
One of the main questions I heard asked to published authors was whether they were a plotter or a pantser. And while the answer generally placed them in one or the other category, the underlying technique was almost always different (plowing straight through the first draft without looking back, reviewing and editing everything written before starting for the day, outlining with index cards or using the screen writing method). Sometimes authors shared their experience of trying the technique of a friend and explained that they found writing the story harder. This hit home for me because I've been banging my head against writer's block for some time. It made me question whether I've truly found my own method as a pantser or, as Susan Phillips put it in her workshop, I'm really a plotter being lazy...
What about you? Have you tried a different method of writing? If so, did it work better or worse?
The second thing that hit home for me was how ignorant I am about writing. Don't get me wrong; I've been reading and learning about writing, but only as a craft. I have not studied the business. Silly me, I thought that was something I was far from needing to know. After all, I can't seem to finish a first draft, let alone start the query process. But, I learned this is not the case. Not only is it necessary, but it can also be a little embarassing when you should know something or someone and haven't taken the time to learn. Ignorance is not bliss.
So do you keep up with the business aspect of writing? If so, how?
Thursday, August 05, 2010
There are many categories in which I do quite well. I tank when it comes to baseball. But I slam dunk when it comes to Classical Music (which isn't really about "classical" music, but we won't get into that.) One of my favorite categories is Potpourri. Surprise answers to questions you never in a million years would have thought to answer.
Answers like - They both wear their spurs to bed.
(*I'll post the question to this answer at the end of my post.)
Anybody know the question? Anyone? Bueller?
So after a fabulous, whirlwind time at conference I have a few potpourri questions for those of us who are in JEOPARDY of becoming published writers or who are already hopelessly in the clutches of the world of deadlines, revisions, line edits and getting a cover that looks like historical Barbie does London. Feel free to answer any or all of them.
1. When you get ready to write a new chapter, do you have a target number of pages you set for each chapter or do you simply write and decide when to end the chapter when you come to it?
2. What font do you use?
3. Do you go by number of pages x 250 words per page or do you take the computer Word count?
4. Do you work with a critique partner, a critique group or alone? More than one critique partner? At what point do you send something to your critique partner to read? Do you use Beta readers? At what point? How do you work out critiquing so it is an equitable swap between your partner and yourself?
5. In today's current market for romance writers how do you REALLY keep yourself going? No platitudes, cheerleading or Hallmark sentiments. How do you make yourself sit in that chair day after day when many of your fellow writers, even agents and editors, talk about how hard it is to break into publishing today?
So, there you have it. My own little Writer's Potpourri. No prize for answering every question, except perhaps undying gratitude from someone who reads something that keeps them in the game. Cuz, trust me, my fellow masochists, this gig is NOT for sissies!
Oh, and the question to the answer I posted?
What do cowboys and snakes have in common?
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Nothing prepares us to react to this type of news. Even though I have been divorced from this man for more years than I was married to him, it still has me reeling with all sorts of emotions. I am so sorry that he and his family are going through this. It will be a tough time for all concerned.
I struggled to find the words to tell my boy how bad I felt about this as he was dispassionately spouting the medical jargon concerning his dad's illness. I know he was in shock even though the doctor had told him to expect this. I can only hope my few, wholly inadequate words gave him some comfort.
As I hung up the phone I tried to imagine what I would do if faced with similar news. Would I compile my "bucket list"? Carry on as usual, ignoring what I faced, or, a combination of both?
I always try to live each day as if it were my last. Some days I do better than others in reaching this goal. This afternoon I found myself making my own "bucket list" and re-dedicating myself to enjoying what each day has to offer.
Lately, times have been tough financially since our business is tied to the economy. I have spent far too much time hoping for the return of a good economy, while failing to appreciate the blessings I have. I resolve not to spend any more time wishing for things in the future. The present is too precious to waste.
Do you have your own "bucket list"? Are you living in the present?
Sunday, August 01, 2010
As a child, her favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When she realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, she knew she'd found her calling. Now Paula writes for Harlequin Intrigue, where she gets to play both matchmaker and murderer and get paid for it.
[Note: Paula is also a founding member of Southern Magic.]
For more information about Paula and her books, go to one of the following.
Cooper Justice from Harlequin Intrigue:
One Tough Marine - August 2010
Bachelor Sheriff - September 2010